Gaza ceasefire welcome – but now it’s time to end the cycle of violence once and for all

Emergencies, In the field article written on the 28 Aug 2014

After 50 days of intense violence, a new ceasefire in Gaza has been agreed between Israel and Hamas. It’s a welcome and much needed respite for civilians on all sides, following a conflict that has come at a terrible human cost.

More than 1,500 civilians in Gaza, and six in Israel, have been killed and over 100,000 Palestinians have been left homeless. Vital civilian infrastructure worth billions of dollars has been destroyed, creating even deeper needs in housing, water and sanitation and livelihoods in Gaza – needs that were already immense prior to the most recent conflict.

The recent ceasefire announcement is certainly good news, but is only the first step on a long road toward lasting peace. Prosperity, sustainable development and security for all civilians will only be possible if Israel permanently lifts its restrictions on Gaza’s economy and people,

The blockade of Gaza, which has been in place for seven years, has left people in Gaza mired in poverty, unable to trade or move freely.  Exports from Gaza are at just two percent of levels before the blockade was put in place in 2007. Students, families, businessmen and women, and government officials cannot freely travel between Gaza and the West Bank. Only three students from Gaza have been allowed to study in the West Bank in the past 14 years. Fishermen are prevented from going more than a few kilometres out to sea, so are unable to make a living.

Recent history in Gaza, which has seen three military escalations since 2008, tells us that the most recent ceasefire will only be a short-term fix, rather than a foundation for lasting peace, as long as Palestinian civilians in Gaza are denied their basic rights.

At the end of the last major conflict in November 2012, a ceasefire was agreed but ultimately broke down. The following year was marked by the quietest security period in a decade, but commitments to ease the Israeli blockade of Gaza and improve the lives of civilians there remained largely unmet.

Ordinary Palestinian and Israeli civilians can’t afford for the same mistakes to be made again. What’s urgently needed now is a lasting solution that not only ends the violence by both sides, but also changes the policies that have reduced a once vibrant economy to dependency on international aid. Previous agreements between Israeli and Palestinian authorities have shown us that there are workable alternatives to the blockade, which both address Israel’s security concerns, guarantee the rights of Palestinians, and promote economic growth in Gaza.

That’s why this ceasefire must be followed by sustained diplomatic efforts to end the blockade of Gaza, and continued with negotiations for long-term peace, based on international law.

Right now, there is a critical opportunity to push for a just and lasting peace for the millions of civilians who always pay the highest price in this cycle of conflict – an opportunity worth investing in.

Read Oxfam’s report, Cease Failure: Rethinking seven years of failing polices in Gaza on the steps that should be taken to ensure rights and development for people in Gaza and security for all Israelis and Palestinians.